The areal typology of western Middle and South America: Towards a comprehensive view

Matthias Urban, Hugo Reyes-Centeno, Kate Bellamy, Matthias Pache

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Against a multidisciplinary background this contribution explores the areal typology of western Middle and South America. Based on a new language sample and a typological questionnaire that is specifically designed to bring some of the poorly documented and extinct languages into the debate, we explore the areal distribution of 77 linguistic traits in 44 languages. While one of the goals of the present article is to provide a general up-to-date view of the areal patterning of these traits on a large scale, we also explore a number of specific questions in more detail. In particular, we address the relationship between known language areas like Mesoamerica and the Central Andes with their respective peripheries, the possibility of detecting an areal-typological signal that predates the rise of these linguistic areas, and, finally, the question of linguistic convergence along the Pacific coast. We find that, while the languages of the Mesoamerican periphery are rather diffuse typologically, the structural profiles of the Central Andean languages are embedded organically into a more general cluster of Andean typological affinities that alters continuously as one moves through geographical space. In different ways, the typological properties of the peripheral languages may reflect a situation that goes back to time depths which are greater than that of the emergence of the Mesoamerican and Central Andean linguistic areas. Finally, while we can confirm typological affinities with Mesoamerica for some languages of coastal South America, we do not find support for large-scale linguistic convergence on the Pacific coast.

Original languageEnglish
StateAccepted/In press - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston 2019.


  • Andean languages
  • Mesoamerican languages
  • areal linguistics
  • language contact
  • typology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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